Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's déjà vu all over again

Maybe we need to hire Yogi Berra to be our mediator.

The following statement was just posted to
the Board's negotiation website:

Representatives from the NFT and Board met for negotiating meeting #29 this past Tuesday to discuss the health care plan information obtained from our insurance provider by the solicitors representing each side. Since our provider, International Blue Cross (IBX), did not supply us with the information until Monday evening, both parties require additional time to review the data.

It is worth mentioning that nothing provided by IBX contradicts what was reported by the Board during previous discussions, and this should serve as validation that the Board has been completely transparent with the NFT throughout these negotiations.

Before the meeting concluded, Board President Ritchie Webb reaffirmed the Board's position that teachers must contribute no less than 17% towards monthly health care premiums at this time in order for the district to confront its financial and educational challenges. Since health care/benefit costs are our single greatest expense, the Board is unable to consider other aspects of the collective bargaining agreement until this issue is addressed.

The NFT offered no concessions regarding health care premiums during this meeting, nor did they give approval for the Board's proposed self insured Rx plan which would offer substantial annual savings to the district with no benefit impact to our employees.

The State mediator will be contacting both sides to schedule another meeting in the near future.

Here we are, three years later, and the NFT still has not demonstrated any understanding that health care costs are the linchpin issue to these negotiations. Despite the impression she would put insurance plans and premium contributions on the table for discussion, NFT President Louise Boyd seems more concerned with avoiding these issues than addressing them. I fear she still holds out hope that the NFT can somehow maintain its current Rolls Royce health care plan with no employee contributions. I hope I'm wrong.

And just so we can avoid any accusations, this is not an uncivil personal attack on the NFT's leader. I am stating my assessment of the situation based on her actions to date, including this past Tuesday when she told Fox 29 (see video clip below) "The Union is very disappointed ... It is the School District who is not budging from its original offer while the Union has already moved twice." Her statement is not only misleading, it is flat out wrong.

The Board's original offer to the NFT included employee contributions of 10%-12% over three years for a reduced-cost health care plan. The NFT said they wanted to maintain its Rolls Royce plan and so the Board did in fact amend its offer ... the NFT could keep its plan BUT they were going to have to pay for it, and that is why the employee contribution rate was increased to 15% - 17% over the three year agreement. Ok, ok - I know what teachers will say to this . . . how can you call that a concession when it will cost us more? I will answer that question with another question . . . how can the NFT insist it has offered concessions when the bottom line costs of the counterproposals are more expensive than their original offer?

Ms. Boyd's claims that the last NFT proposal will save the district millions, but only the opposite is true - it will cost us millions of dollars more. This past Tuesday's meeting proved that the $3-$4 million savings she previously touted were not realistic. At best, the NFT's offer includes initial reductions of about $2 million BUT most of that would be the result of implementing the Board's proposal for self insured Rx. And what little savings the NFT did offer is gobbled up by other aspects of their proposal.

Let me bottom line this for you ... There is no NET savings in any of the NFT's proposals to date. And that brings us back to issue #1: Health care.

Since Ms. Boyd has stated that health care cannot be resolved independently of all other issues, I have a suggestion: Negotiate health care issues and reach a tentative offer solely on that topic that is subject to change depending on the other aspects of the CBA. Perhaps both parties can agree to keep those details confidential until the full contract is ready for public vetting. By doing this, the Board will be able to assess its financial position to determine if there are areas in which concessions can be considered.

Or the NFT can continue down the same path as it has for the past three years of negotiations. How's that been working out so far?

So let's maintain civility - absolutely! Let's focus on issues, not the people involved - no question! But while we engage in the usual rules of healthy debate, let's not overlook
REALISM. The facts are unavoidable - We have an unsustainable economic model in the midst of a struggling economy. If concessions aren't made that will substantially reduce our expenses, student programs will eventually be cut. And while we're at it, can we all agree that is not a realistic solution to anyone???

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